Election 2017

National debate needed on food and farming policy

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

The prime minister’s snap general election announcement offers a chance to forge a national food and farming policy, say industry leaders
The prime minister’s snap general election announcement offers a chance to forge a national food and farming policy, say industry leaders

Related tags National farmers union Drink manufacturing sector Agricultural economics Agriculture Uk

Politicians should set out their plans to develop the UK’s £108bn food and drink manufacturing sector ahead of the general election on Thursday June 8, insist industry leaders.

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director general Ian Wright said any government’s main duty – alongside national security – was to ensure that the nation had access to safe, affordable and nutritious food and drink.

“Over the next six weeks all those who aspire to form the next government have a duty to spell out in very clear terms their vision for the nation’s food and farming policy for the post Brexit generation,” ​said Wright.

The FDF looked forward to “a proper public debate”​ on a national food and farming policy. The federation pledged to work with other organisations in farming, food retailing, and the out of home sector to ensure the UK had “a vibrant and diverse food industry”​ after Brexit.

‘Industrial strategy partnership’

“Part of this process will involve creating an industrial strategy partnership that supports growth and productivity in our sector, ensuring we retain our world-class reputation and competitive advantage internationally,”​ said Wright.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said its members would want to understand how each of the political parties planned to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future.

“The right post-Brexit trade deal is absolutely critical but equally well so is a new wider policy framework that better delivers for farming and the nation,”​ said NFU president Meurig Raymond.

British farms grow the raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector worth £108bn and the public want to continue to buy British food, he added. “For that to happen it’s vital that candidates recognise the enormous contribution that agriculture makes and to back British farming​. For every £1 invested, farming delivers £7.40 back to this country.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) urged each political party set out their plans to support economic stability and prosperity over the next Parliament in a way that was fair and sustainable for communities across the UK.

“Firms will want to hear commitments from all parties to work in close partnership with business and back a new industrial strategy to make the UK economy the most competitive in the world by 2030,”​ said CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn. 

‘Pro-enterprise tax environment’

“It is essential to get the UK’s foundations right, from building a skills base for the next generation, to investing in infrastructure, energy and delivering a pro-enterprise tax environment.”

Fairbairn added that firms were clear about “the serious risks of failing to secure a deal​ [on trade with the EU]” and falling into World Trade Organisation rules.

“It is vital that negotiators secure some early wins and all parties should commit to working to ensure businesses can continue to trade easily with our EU neighbours, while seeking new opportunities around the world.”

Manufacturers’ organisation EEF said industry would welcome the prime minister’s decision to seek a clear mandate. “The last year has been one of considerable uncertainty which, if it had gone on unchecked, would have risked hampering future investment,” ​said its chief executive Terry Scuoler.

“We have significant negotiations to undertake with our partners in the rest of Europe and, doing this with a fresh and stable mandate from the country can only provide greater certainty about the future direction of travel for policy, and the potential to seek the best deal possible for the UK.”

Meanwhile, read how the announcement of a snap general election affected the value of sterling​.

How others responded to the election announcement

Dairy UK​ chief executive Dr Judith Bryans

“As politicians have started to gear up for another general election, Dairy UK is calling on politicians across the spectrum to stand up for dairy – an industry which is vital to Britain’s economy, environment, as well as the nation’s diet.

“The UK dairy industry has tremendous potential on the domestic and international stage and it is in the interests of consumers and the many thousands of people who work in the industry that we operate and produce nutritious foods in the best possible business climate.”

Farmers Union of Wales (FUW)​ president Glyn Roberts

“We have long been calling for the creation of a post-Brexit UK agricultural framework and we know discussions between UK and Welsh government have been frustratingly slow.

“The timing of this election will do nothing to aid progress in establishing a UK framework for agriculture and we therefore urge the Westminster government not to ignore the critical issues at hand.

“As the independent voice for Welsh farming, the FUW, we will of course continue to remind all parties about the importance of the rural economy and why #FarmingMatters and is actively going to engage with candidates about the future of agriculture in the coming weeks.”

National Farmers UnionScotland (NFUS)​ president Andrew McCornick

“For Scottish farmers, crofters and food producers looking for certainty and confidence in an uncertain, Brexit-dominated landscape, this ​[election] announcement will only add to mounting questions about the future. Clearly, this election will be fought on one overarching issue – Brexit. It is absolutely vital that the significant interests of the agricultural industry are heard properly in this election campaign given our clear interest in the Brexit negotiations.

“The manifesto process will allow every party the opportunity to flesh out exactly what they want from the Brexit process. It is vital that they take the opportunity to clearly state what their vision is for agriculture and food production in the post-Brexit era. NFUS will seek to influence and scrutinise those manifestos and, despite the relatively short timetable between now and the election, we will pull together our own document reiterating our priorities for Scottish farmers and crofters.”  

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